Diabetes news: Mothers who breastfeed for six months or more halve their risk

The 30-year study suggests that breastfeeding for at least six months cuts the risk of developing type 2 diabetes nearly in half for women throughout their childbearing years.

Study lead author Doctor Erica Gunderson, senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in the US, said: “We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors.”

She said the results showed that women who breastfed for six months or more across all births had a 47 per cent reduction in their risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not breastfeed at all.

Women who breastfed for six months or less had a 25 per cent reduction in their diabetes risk, according to the findings published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dr Gunderson and her colleagues analysed figures during the 30 years of follow up from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, involving around 5,000 American adults who were aged 18 to 30 when they enrolled in 1985.

She said the new findings add to a growing body of evidence that breastfeeding has protective effects for both mothers and their offspring, including lowering a mother's risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The CARDIA findings are also consistent with those of the Study of Women, Infant Feeding and Type 2 Diabetes after GDM Pregnancy (SWIFT), also led by Dr Gunderson, which includes routine biochemical screening for diabetes in women after gestational diabetes.

Dr Gunderson said: “The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviours, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological.”

She said several plausible biological mechanisms are possible for the protective effects of breastfeeding, including the influence of lactation-associated hormones on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels and thereby impact blood sugar.

Doctor Tracy Flanagan, director of women's health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said: “We have known for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies, however, previous evidence showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women.

“Now we see much stronger protection from this new study showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery, may be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to one half as they get older.

“This is yet another reason that doctors, nurses, and hospitals as well as policymakers should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible.”

Dr Gunderson added: “Unlike previous studies of breastfeeding, which relied on self-reporting of diabetes onset and began to follow older women later in life, we were able to follow women specifically during the childbearing period and screen them regularly for diabetes before and after pregnancies.”

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